01 Jun The Maldives on a Budget.
What to say about The Maldives…It was not easy to find travel information for this country. Apart from the resorts packed with honeymooners, travel is a fairly new concept. I had a lot of uncertainty going in to this trip, but sometimes all you can do is just go for it. So I did…
After many hours of research I decided my best bet, since this was a short trip, was to play it safe and stay near to the airport. My first views were of Hulhulmale, where the airport is located. Hulhulmale is a small oval shaped island 20 minutes from the capital, Malé. It runs ferrys between the two for only $1 (16 Rufiyaa). The airport is slightly distanced from the actual town, meaning you will need to arrange transport, or take a local bus; which is also $1. The local bus runs regularly until about midnight. Once you leave the terminal, go left, and you’ll see a Burger King and other options. Keep straight so the BK is on your left. Once the building ends you’ll see a covered walkway that heads left, and a sign not far down that says “bus stop.” I know what you’re thinking. The bus must stop here. It’s a bus stop…but you would be wrong. A little further down from that on the other side of the street is another sign, partially hidden by tree branches, that says “bus stop.” This is where the bus actually stops and you can jump on. For some reason there are other signs that proclaim themselves as bus stops, complete with time tables, but the bus never stops there. Also, the bus stops in town aren’t really labeled. So if you’re thinking you will just see bus stop #2 and jump off, and take a leisurely walk to your hotel, you might end up far far away. Luckily a local offered to give me a ride, or my night would have been much worse. You have been warned.
As you may have read Hulhulmale has a lot of on going construction efforts. You will indeed hear clinging and clanging in the background at all times of daylight. I don’t blame them though. The island has potential, and in order to live up to it there are some necessary growing pains. I’m not saying you should stay there for a long period of time right now, but in a year or two I think it will be a very attractive option. It’s still better than Malé though! I read Malé was a concrete jungle, and I’d have to say I agree. I spent 4 or 5 hours there waiting on the ferry to my final destination, Maafushi. I explored to see what Malé had to offer, and I can see why people said to just skip it entirely if possible. It really has nothing to offer the foreign visitor…except a ferry to get out of there.
The ferry from Malé to Maafushi departs at 3:00pm, is $2, and takes about 2 hours. The ferry does not run on Friday. You can arrange for a speedboat transfer for $25 to/from Maafushi through iCom. This is because The Maldives is an Islamic country, and Friday is a day of rest. As such, alcohol is banned from the country (excluding resorts). However, Liveaboard boats are authorized to have alcohol. There is hookah available though, and it’s great!
TIP: Wait until you get to Maafushi to get data for your phone. It’s loads cheaper on the island than at the airport! ($12 for 2Gigs!)
Maafushi turned out to be a great choice. I visited The Maldives in low season, so the number of travelers was noticeably fewer. There was no more than 75 on the island. You’ll get to know the entire island within a couple days. It’s not very big. You can walk from one side to the other within 20 minutes. Guesthouses are scattered throughout, but it seems most of the restaurants and shops are on the north side of the island. There’s no need to get out rufiyaa, as everywhere accepts U.S. dollars, but they are a little picky about which bills they will accept. Any with tears or crinkles will most likely not be taken. Maafushi just got an ATM within a couple days of my departure! I would still suggest you get out enough cash to cover your meals and shopping expenses, unless you can confirm that the ATM will accept your card. You can use card for most, if not all, guesthouses and excursions. If you do get out rufiyaa, make sure you use it. It’s hard to get the money exchanges to trade rufiyaa for U.S, or any other currency. Now, one thing I must boringly mention, is taxes. It’s not a fun topic, but it’s definitely need to know. On all purchases there is a 10% service charge, and an 8% GST. This makes it very important that you ask before booking your room if your rate includes these taxes or not. Otherwise, your bill could be much larger than you expected. Guesthouse prices, in low season, range from $35 – $100+, with the lower priced options disappearing at high season.
The food on the island is average. Don’t expect a really good meal unless you pay a bit more at one of the fancier hotel restaurants. Typically a meal will cost between $5-10usd. Don’t forget, the guesthouses all serve food as well. Make sure you try the Maldivian dishes! My favorite was chicken and cheese roshi, which I had at the Summer Villa guesthouse.
TIP: You can buy local groceries at the convenient stores, and use the kitchen at your guest house to cook food, and SAVE money. I opted for an easier option, and replaced one meal a day with peanut butter sandwiches; saving me an estimated $50! Of course…this I ended up spending at the bar, but still…$50!
As previously mentioned, there’s no alcohol on the islands. There are, however, four bar boats. One, called Divemaster, is a very nice luxury yacht. The other big boat is Explorer, which is more your average looking boat. After that there is two other small boats I didn’t visit. Now, I know what you’re thinking…you couldn’t even make it four days with no booze, but I had to check it out…For the viewers. You think I wanted to go there? No, no definitely not. Lucky for you all, I’m a stand up guy. In low season, don’t expect many drinking buddies, or any, for that matter. It’s worth mentioning that the liquor is not chilled, just served with ice cubes, but they don’t last long. There’s no cost to get transport to the bar.
Surely, you have read that there is a sort of dress code when on local islands. Men, we’re the lucky ones in this situation. We can wear anything short of a banana hammock. Ladies, you will need to cover up a bit more. When you are amongst the locals, no bikinis are allowed, your shoulders should be covered, and no short shorts. This, I’m told, is standard on the local islands. There is a designated beach where you are allowed to wear what you normally would. It’s also on the north side of the island. Once you are in a boat you can wear whatever you please also.
I had a great time chillin with the locals! Every single one of them I met was enjoyable, nice, and happy to include me in whatever was going on; whether it was dinner, diving, or just hanging out. You should definitely ask them for advice if you have any questions!
I spent most of my time diving, so I cannot say much about the snorkeling around Maafushi other than what I’ve been told by the locals I met. According to them, the south side of the island has the best snorkeling, but the north/west sides are good too. While night snorkeling on the west side we came across a huge stingray! That was my only time spent snorkeling, but I enjoyed it. If you go to the backside of the island you can witness baby sharks swimming right at the shore! Little killers in training! I would recommend you bring your own suncreen/bug spray as it is expensive once in country. The mosquitos didn’t bother me too much when I was there, but when your blood content is more whiskey than blood…they never do.
The diving was incredible. I did a total of 23 dives with Maafushi Dive over a period of 10 days. The shop and staff were everything I would have expected PADI professionals to be. I also got a great rate (posted above). There were multiple shark, manta rays, stingray, turtle, and eel sightings! I made a short highlight video for anyone who is interested.
I also tried Flyboarding! A fairly new water sport that I still don’t quite understand…but it was fun. Challenging too, as you’ll see from the footage of me slamming into the water multiple times. Enjoy!
Sometimes it’s hard to turn your experiences in to interesting articles. Hopefully, if you weren’t entertained you at least learned some valuable Maldives travel tips! Please remember to like, comment, and share. Like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and Instagram, and watch us on Youtube! And here’s a picture of some resort to make you hate your life: